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Ancient and Historical Peoples of The Wild Uintas

Who else has stood on the edge of this dark forest, much as I am today, feeling the wind on my face and the shadows of clouds ripple across cool boulders? What brought them here? Like me, you may have found yourself wondering just this if you have spent wondrous days in the High Uintas. Having found (and left) an arrowhead in the high country of the proposed Mt. Watson Wilderness, we contac ted Wasatch N.F. and State Archaeologists who provided us with some fascinating information that I pass on to you, purely as a curious Uintas fan. This quick survey of their anthropological research represents an ongoing investigation for the past decade. I certainly invite anyone who reads this to add his/her knowledge or corrections to what I have gleaned to share here. My sincere thanks to Byron Loosle, archaeologist on the Ashley N. F., Dave Madsen, UT Geological Survey (former UT State Archaeologist), and Tom Scott, Wasatch-Cache N.F. archaeologist. The data is theirs; any faulty summations are mine.

Initial studies of prehistoric use of the Uintas in l995 identified over 40 high altitude, mid- Archaic to late-prehis-toric sites and a variety of isolated tools in the high country of the High Uintas Wilderness. Utah State and USFS archaeologi sts scientists identified the sites as probably hunting related, although there was some pottery, groundstone and a possible structure. Toolstone is from local sources or from areas on the North Slope. Sites were characterized by large quartzite bifa cial blades, used as knives and as source material for flake tools and usually 5 long by 2 3/4 wide.

Sites [which the editor has purposely not identified] are located on the north slope or in easy access to the north slope and all are in the Wilderness. Sites were likely hunting related, using vegetative and terrain as blinds, contained lithic scatters or campsites and one structure (all may be hunting related too.) Many sites were scattered with lithics, isolated flakes, etc. near krumholz which may have indicated a hunting blind or wind shelter.

A fascinating question was raised by researchers regarding the economics of hunting for and returning with meat to a central base. Drawing comparisons between the energy expended and game sought in tribal groups in Tanzania, Zaire, Paraguay, and among South African Kung San bushmen, Madsen et al. found that 25 kg of meat can be economically carried by a hunter within a 120 km radius.(3) Beyond that distance, the trade off between caloric/ transport costs and the caloric benefits of food transported may prove inefficient.

Therefore, we can assume that hunting/traveling up the north slope is efficient and logistical (from base to alpine grassland community atop the basin), but not via the south slope. If use was based on shorter time and effort spent to haul deer and mountain sheep out of the high country to the canyon mouths the decision probably weighed by whether or not to expend energy and time crossing extensive dead zones, defined as wide swaths of forest, with little grass and low number of large mamma lsthen it would seem that hunters accessed the Uintas from the North (Shoshone), not the south (Ute.) On the south slope these forest zones are extensive (15-20 miles); they are shorter (7 or so miles) on the north. If a family group moves up to spend summer in the alpine zone, this transport cost wouldn't apply, since groups were staying put. While there is not sufficient evidence of encampments high in the alpine country, the presence of 11 Uinta Gray pottery sherds and a mano may suggest a larger family group was present as well as suggest the relation to lower elevation, Wyoming sites rather than the Uinta Basin to the south.

It is believed that hunting sites would be found wherever there is access to large alpine grasslands. Ashley and Powell noted bighorn herds near Henry's Fork and Sheep Creek Canyon, which was named for them (and where they were reintroduced in the l980s.)(1) Toolstones of tiger chert were of Blacks Fork (SW Wyoming) origin, not from Uinta Basin, thus the hunters most probably used a northern, not southern access.

But Loosle suggests tiger chert is also from Sheep Creek, 25 miles NE by crow of the north slope sites. There he found 5 sites, one of which had 20 obvious depressions and 12 or so possible depressions (probably hunting blinds once covered with bushes.) Some were 6 across, some even 6 deep. Rocks were stacked on the downslope edge, perhaps indicating a one person blind. Most are at the toe or edge of a steep talus slope where wary sheep sought escape.

While the lithic material is like that found high on the north slope, Loosle suggests the presence of tiger chert in some south slope sites could mean that horticulturist Utes exchanged their Basin corn for tools in the high country with Fremont/ Shoshone. Yet the possibility of Uinta Basin people hunting on the north slope still seems unrealistic.

By l997 Loosle, Madsen and Malmstrom had located over 200 sites in the High Uintas. In l996 some of the depressions were carbon dated, with one yielding an estimated time of creation of 1295 A.D. Malmstrom notes that lichen exposed on rocks that were moved long ago to create blinds also serves as an aging technique.(5) Dates of a site on Ashley Creek, which was heavily vandalized but contained one intact enough structure to provide information, contained chipped stone, Sheep Creek quartzite debitage, and tiger chert, which has been a source for nearly 10,000 years. Pieces have been found as far away as Jackson Hole.

Loosle raises the questions of a detective: how was the tiger chert transported over 40 miles to these Fremont sites? Were the large (continued on page four) quartzite bifaces created for trade? Did nomadic groups spend their winter near horticultural villages and trade tools for corn? Or did the Uinta Basin horticulturists travel to the north slope to trade with nomadic gro ups for the lithic tools and mt. sheep meat/hides they sought? The source of the lithic material determined the direction the hunting parties went looking for game.

Fremonts left much evidence there: projectile points, bone gaming pieces, pottery, manos and metates, baskets, snares, corn and rock art. But, according to Loosle, How do you distinguish between a Fremont hunting party and a nomadic group that has been trading with the Fremont?(4) Recently a site on the south slope has revealed that one of the deep depressions was created as early as 645 AD. The largest, with a stone floor and evidence of a brush roof, was dated well after the end of the Fremont occupation. So who occupied the site? Another south slope site yielded Fremont baskets, a pine needle lined pit full of corn cobs and another clay bottomed pit that could have held up to 8 bushels of corn. Pits were connected by tunnels, some were lined with rock, others with cedar bark, grass, or sagebrush. All in all, more questions than answers are offered. But as Loosle states, This does not mean the Uintas were not extensively utilized by other individuals either from the north slope or a group specifically adapted to the Uintas.(4) In recent history, the 1871 recollections of Salt Lake lawyer P.L. Williams, who knew Chief Washakie of the Sho-shone and sat with him on the occasion of the signing of the tribal treaty, provided this: Prior to the adoption of the Treaty, as well as afterwards, it was the custom of the tribe to spend most of the year in the Wind River region, but about the first of June, the whole tribe men, women and children, with all their belongings, ponies, tents, camp equipment, etc., would start on a trip to the Uintah Mountains in northeastern Utah where they remained during the summer, returning about the latter part of September. There was at that time a great abundance of game and fish in these mountains and so was an attractive place for the summer loca tion of those Indians.(2) While some speculate the Shoshone left the Winds for the Uintas when they hunted all they could there and sought more meat, others contend that Washakie was establishing trade practices with the whites and other tribes at rendezvous as well as with Mormon settlers, who purportedly provided the tribe with grain and other goods in exchange for occupying shrinking Shoshone land.(7)

Margaret Pettis

Bibliography I graciously cite the following sources for much food for thought.

1 Byron Loosle, A Long Way from Home- Hunting in the High Uintas, presented at Plains Anthropological Conference, Laramie, WY, l995.

2 P.L. Williams, Personal Recollections of Wash-a-kie, Chief of the Shoshones, Utah Historical Quarterly,Oct.1928

3 David Madsen, Thomas Scott and Byron Loosle, Dif-ferential Transport Costs and High Altitude Occupation patterns in the Uinta Mountains, Northeastern Utah, 1995.

4 Byron Loosle, The Uinta Fremont s Acquisition of Nonlocal Lithic Materials, Ashley N. F., Sept. l997

5 Krista Malmstrom, Salt Lake Tribune, 7/16/96

6 Krista Malmstrom, High Altitude Prehistoric Utilization of the Uinta Mountains, MS Thesis, Idaho State University, 7/97

7 Grace Hebard, Washakie, Chief of the Shoshones, 1930.

Events of Interest

The annual SHO BAN Pow Wow occurs annually at Fort Hall, Idaho, on the second weekend of August (Visit www.sho-ban.com) Sagwitch, a book by the daughter of Washakie's subchief, will be released from USU Press in October. A documentary on the Bear River Massacre of the Sho-shone is slated for release this fall. Its premier showing will be in Preston, Idaho, near the site of the battle.


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